Title: Oral History Interview with Virginius Dabney, July 31, 1975. Interview A-0311-2.
Interviewer: Turpin, William H.
Interviewee: Dabney, Virginius
Subjects: Press and politics--Virginia Virginia--Politics and government Virginia--Race relations Education, Higher--Virginia
Abstract: Virginius Dabney chronicles his long career as a southern journalist from the 1920s to the 1970s. As the editor of the Richmond (Va.) Times-Dispatch, Dabney penned several articles about the social and political crises of the twentieth century, often with a decidedly regional outlook. He wrote a few books concerning southern liberalism and the regional culture of Virginians. These works earned him an invitation as a guest lecturer at Cambridge and Princeton in the late 1930s and early 1940s. Though Dabney discusses his career as a novelist and lecturer, the primary focus of the interview is on his opinions on race relations in post-1954 Virginia. While many Virginia politicians crafted ways to massively resist integrating public schools, he supported gradual public school desegregation. Dabney expresses his criticism of politicians—particularly Senator Harry Byrd Sr. and Jack Kilpatrick—who chose to close public schools rather than integrate them. To Dabney, school closings culminated in backward thinking and fewer economic opportunities for the state. Even though his opinions about massive resistance emerged in his editorials, the owners of the Times-Dispatch prevented him from a full expression of his ideas. Dabney further discusses the relationship between newspaper owners. He also recounts his connection to Virginia's aristocracy and his relational ties to George Washington and Thomas Jefferson. Steeped in this background, Dabney reacts adversely to criticism of the nation's founders. He disapproved of Gore Vidal's and Fawn Brodie's work on Aaron Burr and Thomas Jefferson, respectively. Of particular interest is Dabney's vociferous objection to historian Fawn Brodie's account of a romantic relationship between Sally Hemings and Thomas Jefferson.